Johnny Cope

Guest contributor Nicolas Brown presents his thoughts on one of the Big Tunes in the Sliabh Luachra tradition:

Johnny Cope,
where did you walk?


“Johnny Cope” from Cold Blow and the Rainy Night by Planxty, 1974

Most of us probably first heard the epic six-part Johnny Cope as it opened Planxty’s third album, “Cold Blow and a Rainy Night”, but Johnny’s journey starts much earlier than that.

Johnny Cope_Broadside

Image 1. Broadside from Bodleian Library collection

The tune is strongly associated with Irish traditional music, but actually began life in Scotland. The song sung by Planxty originated with Adam Skivring, who wrote it in 1745 to lampoon Sir John Cope, commander-in-chief of the English forces in Scotland at the Battle of Prestonpans at the start of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, where he was very decisively defeated by Bonnie Prince Charlie. If the lyrics are any judge, he was more than a bit of a coward about the whole thing, although the court martial did find otherwise. There are opinions that the melody was derived from an even earlier tune, rather than composed by Skivring (see the Johnny Cope entry at the Traditional Tune Archive that references Samuel Bayard’s book Dance to the Fiddle). However, for the sake of containing the article, let us put this as the starting point of Johnny Cope’s march from Scotland.

Johnny Cope_Aird

Image 2. Johnny Cope from Aird’s Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs, vol. 2, p. 19

The trail of Johnny Cope’s passage can be traced to page 19 of the second volume of James Aird’s 1792 collection of Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs, where a four-part version is found that bears quite a strong resemblance to the current favourite setting. Aird published his collections in Glasgow, and prominence was given to Scottish melodies, and in addition the title refers to an event of significance to the Scottish, so the tune surely started life in Scotland. The question then becomes, how did this Scottish melody become so paradigmatically Irish?

Johnny Cope_O'Farrell

Image 3. Johnny Cope from O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion, vol. 3, p. 51

The tune shows up in one of the early Irish bagpipe music collections, O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes (“Being a Grand Selection of Favorite Tunes both Scotch and Irish etc”), in Vol 3, page 51, published between 1804 and 1810, where it is almost identical to the setting in Aird’s, and this may be the first instance of the tune found in a primarily Irish context. However, there was a lot of “borrowing” (nowadays we would likely call it plagiarism) and O’Farrell did label this one as “Scotch”, so it’s unlikely that it was thought of as Irish, yet.

Johnny Cope_Edinburgh

Image 4. Johnny Cope from the Edinburgh Repository of Music, vol 2 p.30

The melody appears again in Scotland, this time in the Edinburgh Repository of Music, vol 2 p. 30, published around 1818. This is once again a four-part setting, however there are significant differences, and especially the fourth part in this version has changed significantly.

Johnny Cope_Howe

Image 5. Johnny Cope from Howe’s The Musician’s Companion part 2, p. 49

Another setting of the tune is found in Howe’s The Musician’s Companion part 2, p. 49, published in Boston in 1843. This one is a bit of an oddity, and features a whopping eight parts. It’s worth noting this version because it shows that the tune had spread to America. Also curious is the note that it is “A favorite English Air.”

Johnny Cope_Ross

Image 6. Johnny Cope from Ross’s Collection of Pipe Music

Back in Scotland we find the Ross’s Collection of Pipe Music, where a martial version of the melody is presented in five parts, published around 1869.

Johnny Cope_Kerr

Image 7. Hey! Johnnie Cope from Kerr’s Merry Melodies, vol 3, p. 41.

In the 1880s, James Kerr published twelve volumes of music, four of them called Merry Melodies, which include jigs, reels, and other lively tunes. Volume 3 contains a two-part version of Johnny Cope. John Chambers’ has provided abc notation and kindly included a photo of the page on his website.

Johnny Cope_Kohler_1

Image 8. Johnny Cope – Reel from Köhler’s Violin Repository, vol. 1, p. 23

Johnny Cope_Kohler_2

Image 9. Johnny Cope from Köhler’s Violin Repository, vol. 1, p. 57

Two additional Scottish versions are worth mentioning, from Köhler’s Violin Repository, vol. 1, p. 23 and p. 57, the first a two-part reel and the second a six-part tune just labeled “Variations”, published in 1881 in Edinburgh. I should clarify that I have found references to additional settings in other collections, but these are the ones I have been able to verify myself.

Johnny Cope_O'Neill_1

Image 10. Johnny Cope from O’Neill’s Music of Ireland

Johnny Cope_O'Neill_2

Image 11. Johnnie Cope from O’Neill’s Irish Music and the Repository of Scots & Irish Airs

We’ll now check back in with Irish music collections, and start with largest collector of Irish music, the Chief himself, Captain Francis O’Neill, collector of music, and Superintendent of the Chicago Police. In O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (published 1903) we find tucked away in the Marches and Miscellaneous section, #1812, p. 340, a curious two-part tune called Johnny Cope. In his Irish Music (published 1915 and arranged with piano harmonies), we find a reprint of a version published in a mysterious collection called The Repository of Scots & Irish Airs, with a note from O’Neill regarding the Irishness of the tune: “A footnote in Wood’s Songs of Scotland states that this old air originally consisted of one strain. The chorus or burden of a silly song, adapted to it was the first strain repeated an octave higher. The simple air although claimed as Scotch is in the Irish style and known all over Ireland. The above setting without the harmonization was copied from, ‘The Repository of Scots and Irish Airs’ – printed in 1799.” This setting is listed as being in March time.

Johnny Cope_Joyce

Image 12. Johnny Cope from Joyce’s final manuscript

One of Chief O’Neill’s contemporaries was P. W. Joyce, and more information can be found about him at the Irish Traditional Music Archives. The ITMA has made tunes available from his “final manuscript”, which was found at his bedside at his death in 1914. Found within this collection was another four-part version of Johnny Cope.

Johnny Cope_Roche

Image 13. Jonny Cope from Roche’s Collection of Irish airs, marches & dance tunes, vol. 3

Also from the Irish Traditional Music Archives one more two-part version of Johnny Cope was found, this time coming from Roche’s Collection of Irish airs, marches & dance tunes, vol. 3, first published in 1912.  This is the last version that I could find of Johnny Cope published prior to any recordings of Pádraig O’Keeffe.

Johnny Cope_Treoir

Image 14A. Johnny Cope from Treoir Magazine, Vol 7 No. 3, 1975

Johnny Cope_Treoir 1997

Image 14B. Johnny Cope from Treoir Magazine, Vol 29 No. 1, 1997

Pádraig O’Keeffe’s setting of Johnny Cope was published in Breandán Breathnach’s Ceol Rince na hEireann, vol 3. P. 95, #208 as notated from Sean Keane and in Johnny O’Leary of Sliabh Luachra p. 163, #285, edited by Terry Moylan.  It was also found on the Comhaltas Traditional Music Archive, listed as being published in Treoir magazine in 1975 and again in 1997, and these sources are shown above.


“Johnny Cope [hornpipe]” from The Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master by Pádraig O’Keeffe. Recorded 1949, released 1993. Track 5 of 16.

That’s enough for published scores, what about recorded sources? The first recording of the Irish version appears to be from Pádraig O’Keeffe, recorded by RTE in 1949. Subsequent recordings from Julia Clifford, Seamus Ennis, and eventually the recording by Planxty mentioned at the beginning of this essay have cemented the six-part O’Keeffe version as the definitive Irish Johnny Cope. Note that there are also many Scottish and Cape Breton recordings of versions of Johnny Cope, but for the sake of this article we’ll focus just on the Irish ones. (Well, with one exception which we’ll get to later.) A good listing of recordings of O’Keeffe’s version can be found at Alan Ng’s site, although he hasn’t indexed Planxty, and a listing of all included recordings of a tune by the name Johnny Cope can be found at thesession.org. Planxty’s recording might be the most widespread of the six-parter. Liam O’Flynn, the uilleann piper in the band, was good friends and roommates with Seamus Ennis, and there is a recording of Ennis playing this version, so it’s very likely that he got the tune directly from Ennis. The liner notes to that record mention that it was collected by Seamus Ennis from Pádraig O’Keeffe, so we can be pretty sure that he got the tune directly from O’Keeffe. This is also what Alan Ward wrote in his Music from Sliabh Luachra. So we can conclude that the six-parter came at least from Pádraig O’Keeffe, but we don’t know how it got to be in the form it is before his recording. There is speculation that O’Keeffe may have got the tune from his uncle Cal O’Callahan, either the full six parts, or a shorter version O’Keeffe then embellished. There also seems to have been a copy of Ryan’s Mammoth Collection  and New and Scientific Self-instructing School for the Violin by George Saunders (published Boston in 1847) in the Sliabh Luachra area , so it’s reasonable to assume that there may well have been other collections circulating in the region from which O’Keeffe could have gotten either the full six parts or a shorter version. Unfortunately neither collection includes Johnny Cope (by that name), so they are not the proverbial smoking gun.

Ward’s Music from Sliabh Luachra actually mentions that a musician named Joe Conway “played the standard march as a quadrille polka and the last two parts of Pádraig’s version as a barn dance which he named The Doon Roses”, which lends credence to the idea of embellishment. Further, it seems that O’Keeffe only ever wrote down a two-part version for students or as manuscripts, further influencing the idea that perhaps he (or his uncle) used creativity to arrive at the Big Tune.  Patrick Cavanagh drew my attention to a recording of North Kerry fiddler Tom Barrett playing a local version of Johnny Cope that consists of two parts, the first of which is fairly similar to O’Keeffe’s fifth part, and the second of which only bears a passing resemblance to O’Keeffe’s second or third part. A very similar setting of Barrett’s tune is included in the reels section of Sliabh Luachra on Parade, p. 86, #166, as “The Far Away Boys”,  published 1987.  The tunes in this collection come from Cuz Teahan, and this one has the note “This is another very old piece”. It isn’t known when Barrett or Teahan first started playing or heard this tune and so it’s not known if this came before or after or at the same time as O’Keeffe’s version, however Teahan’s note leads me to suspect it is older.


excerpt from “The Grand Ould Man/Johnnie Cope/Wrens Hornpipe” from Lios A’Cheoil by Tom And Kerry Barrett. 2002. Track 18 of 20.

The above are what we can reference from printed and recorded sources, with published data to back it up. In other words, these are, as much as can be said for certain, the facts. So where did O’Keeffe’s version come from? Is the six-part an embellishment of the two-part tune or just a tangentially related version? What kind of a tune is it anyway? What follows is speculation and conjecture, or more favorably an educated opinion based on written scores… And the first thing to do is compare written sources to Pádraig’s setting.

Let’s compare settings found in published sources with our O’Keeffe version, starting with the Aird/O’Farrell (we’ll call this the AF4) setting – these two settings are so close as to not be worth differentiating. This setting is almost in the same key (only lacking the F#), is in common time (4/4), and has quite a few similarities to O’Keeffe’s setting (let’s call it PK6 from now on). Comparing parts, we find that the first and second parts correspond fairly well to the first and second in PK6, and furthermore the third part corresponds pretty well to the fourth part in PK6. The last part in AF4 does not really match anything in PK6. Since there are no markings in either collection to indicate a rhythm, dance, or tune type, it can be guessed, but the melody and structure feel to me to be fairly march-like. Jumping out of order to Joyce, it can be seen that the setting found at his deathbed is note-for-note identical to that found in O’Farrell’s. Both O’Neill and Joyce copied tunes from older collections, so it seems likely that this setting is merely a copy of AF4, and in any case since this manuscript of Joyce was never published, it is not likely to have been the source for O’Keeffe. Moving back in order, to the Edinburgh Repository setting (ER4), we see that the setting has switched to 2/4 time, likely indicating or emphasizing the use as a march, and has some embellishments to make feel to have more of a melodic flow, but otherwise nearly identical to AF4 in the first and third parts, and only a bit more different in the second part. However, the fourth part of ER4 is what becomes interesting: the shape of this part follows very well the shape of the third part of PK6! Also interesting is the addition of some occasional F# accidentals in the second and fourth part.

What about the Howe’s setting (HO8)? Despite having eight parts, to my ear this setting has less of a similarity to PK6. HO8 has a somewhat broadly similar first and second part, but these almost appear to be repeated as variations for the third and fourth part. The fifth part again seems almost a variation on the first part, and the sixth part finally changes to something new (corresponding to the fourth part of PK6 or third of AF4). The seventh part is also new, with possibly a hint of the fourth part of ER4, and the eighth part seems completely new, or maybe a heavy variation on the sixth part. The marking labels this an “English Air”, but this doesn’t really help categorize the tune. As an aside, these last two parts bring another tune to mind, the Drunken Sailor.  And to add another (further) aside, the Groves Hornpipe is very close to being a major key version of the Drunken Sailor, and so may also be related to Johnny Cope.

Chronologically, the next setting found was a five-parter in Ross’ Collection (RP5). Ross was a highland pipe major, so by inference the key of the setting is likely to be A mixolydian, as two sharps are assumed, but not written. The setting is essentially one part (the first) and three variations (second, fourth, and fifth) of that part, with a second part (the third) in the middle. The first and third correspond loosely to the first and third in AF4, but otherwise this setting appears to be departure away from PK6 rather than closer to it. The title is actually shown as Johnny Cope, March, and the structure definitely feels quite march-y; indeed certain features of the tune are reminiscent of another Scottish march, The Burning of the Piper’s Hut, if only slightly. Kerr’s Merry Melodies (KM2) is the first two-part setting found, despite O’Neill’s note about the original being one strain, but this may be due to holes in the research above. The KM2 setting is moved up to Bm, but otherwise corresponds reasonably well to the first two parts of AF4 and PK6. The endings of both parts show elaboration, and a similarity to the ending of the fourth part of HO8, which features a rising motif, but it doesn’t appear that this version has influenced PK6 at all.

This brings us to Köhler’s settings, KR2 the two-parter and KR6 the six-parter both in G minor (aeolian). The KR2 version doesn’t appear directly related to Johnny Cope all that much, but it does seem similar to the Drunken Sailor.  Curiously it’s also marked as composed by W. B. Laybourn. The KR6 setting at first glance also appears to be unique, but in fact is identical, after adjusting the key to match, to the last six parts of the setting in Howe’s. Additionally, the setting found in O’Neill’s Irish Music (ON6), also a six-parter, and also in G minor (aeolian), is almost exactly the same as KR6. This setting was copied from a publication O’Neill said was published in 1799, and it turns out to be The Repository of Scots & Irish Airs, Strathspeys, Reels &c. by John McFadyen, meaning this key and the six parts are older than HO8, strongly implying plagiarism (or copying) on the part of Köhler, but even more perplexingly, making one wonder what exactly W. B. Laybourn arranged. There is no marking for KR6, but O’Neill included the marking “March Time” for his setting. In any case, this setting is definitely from a Scottish source.


Joseph Cormier plays ‘Johnnie Cope’, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1990, recorded by Alan Govenar

You may recall I mentioned there would be one exception to recordings mentioned: Joseph Cormier, a Cape Breton fiddler, recorded a version of Johnny Cope in 1974, and was recorded again in 1990. His recorded version is almost note for note the version found in McFadyen’s and Köhler’s, and I believe this version is still known well in Cape Breton musical circles, as are a couple more. The Traditional Tune Archive includes a note that the setting in Köhler may have been the source or inspiration for Pádraig O’Keeffe, but to my ear they are not similar enough. The note continues and mentions that it may have been the inspiration for the Drunken Sailor – this is believable, as there are definite similarities, as I remarked upon above.

There are two more printed settings to be examined – the curious two-part version tucked away in the march and miscellaneous section of O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (ON2) and the two-part version found in the Roche Collection (RC2). These versions are very different from the previous settings. The two settings are almost note-for-note identical, except that ON2 is notated with a key signature of A and RC2 of G, and the third last bar in the B part is slightly different. Both settings start with an E-A figure not found in previous settings of Johnny Cope and the B part is quite a bit different from anything found in other settings. Otherwise, there are apparent similarities in the A part, especially to KM2. This version is very similar to the polka recorded by Denis Doody (and more recently by Bryan O’Leary) in A dorian, which matches the key signature of RC2.  Also of interest, the opening figure, and the shape of the A part, strongly suggest the Battle of Aughrim.

[Editor’s Note: Though I don’t have any direct evidence to support it, I have a strong suspicion that the polka played by Denis Doody is the same as Joe Conway’s “quadrille polka” referenced in the Ward booklet.]


Excerpt from “Johnny Cope’s/Din Tarrant’s [Polkas]” from Kerry music by Denis Doody. Released: 1978. Track 1 of 23.

The setting (or settings) from Barrett and Teahan are different again, but as mentioned above have one part that is reasonably similar to the fifth part of PK6. [Heavy speculation alert: the RC2 setting could be the two-part one played by Joe Conway, and even perhaps written down by O’Keeffe, as mentioned above in Alan Ward’s writing. Alternatively, the Barrett/Teahan setting could have been the two-part barndance.  And a third possibility is that this referenced version may be a completely different two-part tune. This setting, and its origins, are even more mysterious than that of O’Keeffe’s, so not much more will be said about it.]

Johnny Cope_similarities

Image 15. A visual representation of similarities between parts of the various settings.

Not much has been said so far about the fifth and sixth parts of PK6.  Ward’s booklet makes reference to there being a standalone barndance of these two parts.  However, there are similarities between these parts and the other parts of O’Keeffe’s setting.

Johnny Cope_O'Keeffe

Image 16. Transcription of some parts of O’Keeffe’s setting.

In the above image, note that the sixth part starts with what is essentially an inversion of the fourth part—A to E instead of E to A.  The endings starting at the second half of the second-to-last measure of the fifth and sixth parts nearly matches that of the second and third parts.  Finally, the fifth part follows the same general pattern of the first part: both start with two measures of a mode centered on A, followed by two measures centered on G, except that in the case of the fifth part, the notes played are the fifth of the chord, rather than the root.  There are enough similarities and differences that to my mind, one of three possibilities (or a combination thereof) exists:
1. O’Keeffe borrowed and modified some or all of the proto-barndance and/or modified the existing four parts of Johnny Cope enough to make the two “new” parts fit.
2. He created one or two new parts completely.
3. Or he happened upon a chance bit of the universe where coincidences happen and the existing tune just fit as-is.
It’s also possible that someone else, such as perhaps his uncle, did any of those three things.

Here’s where the really heavy speculation starts. To sum up all of the observations above: from Ward’s booklet and the Barrett recording, it seems that it could be possible that O’Keeffe used an existing barndance for one or both of the final two parts of his version.  He could also have created one or both of those parts to suite the tune.  There are enough similarities between the early four-part printed versions (especially ER4) to suggest that he got the first four parts of his setting either from a collection or transmitted via the oral tradition from a Scottish source. Cal O’Callahan’s sojourn to the U.S. may have been the source, or some other unknown collection may have given inspiration. There are enough differences to conclude that there was definitely an amount of creativity and variation at work, and it is my opinion that it was O’Keeffe’s creativity that made it his own, even while it’s also possible that he didn’t completely invent any of the source material.

The only firm conclusion that can be made at this time is that the version we all know and love can be traced pretty conclusively from Planxty (and Liam O’Flynn), to Seamus Ennis, back to Pádraig O’Keeffe.

One comment on the type of tune: Ward labeled Julia Clifford’s recording of PK6 as a hornpipe, but noted that it “is referred to as a hornpipe for convenience, though if Julia’s performance is anything to go by it would have been more for listening than dancing to.” Seamus Ennis’ and Planxty’s recordings are also classified as a hornpipe, but this may be simply for convenience as well. After listening to some of the other recorded versions I would conclude that this tune falls somewhere on a spectrum, sometimes closer to a march, sometimes maybe a barndance, and other times more decidedly as a hornpipe.

Much information at the Traditional Tune Archive regarding Johnny Cope’s path through history is referenced from Samuel Bayard’s book Dance to the Fiddle. Since this book is a compilation of music from Pennsylvania, perhaps there is a link to be found between the story of Cal O’Callaghan and his stay in Ohio. There are also other collections of music where Johnny Cope may be found hiding that could shed more light (or just add more to the confusion) on the setting from O’Keeffe, as well.

As they say, further research is needed.

Nicolas Brown, Ferndale, MI

Nicolas Brown is “an excellent piper who incorporates smart, subtle touches in his ornamentation and regulator work to yield a smooth, gentlemanly style.” (The Irish Echo) He was born in Illinois and raised in Ontario, and first started playing Irish music when he was in his late teens. A friend lent him a practice set of uilleann pipes, with which he proceeded to torture his extremely patient and understanding parents. Norman Stiff (a student of Chris Langan) started teaching him and gave him two CDs: one of Willie Clancy and one of Seamus Ennis. Nicolas proceeded to listen to these two recordings on repeat for the next year. Eventually, he got his own set of pipes and a flute (and some more CDs!) and set out on his journey down the Irish music rabbit hole. Over the last 15 years, Nicolas has not only become a very proficient musician, but has also developed a vast knowledge of Irish music history, about the old musicians, tune histories, Irish music in America, and more. Nicolas has performed and given workshops at various venues and festivals in Canada and the US.  Nicolas plays a hybrid concert pitch “D” set of uilleann pipes, a Joe Kennedy flat pitch “B” set of union pipes, an antique Wylde concert flute, and a John Gallagher B flute (the first modern 8-keyed B flute, as far as he’s aware!)


The Pride of Rathmore & The Girls of Farranfore (reels)

Two reels, named for Kerry townlands (both with stations on the Tralee-Mallow train line… coincidence, or not???), a classic Sliabh Luachra pairing, inextricably intertwined. Both in E minor, the two share similar phrases and motifs, which make for an interesting pairing. The set appears to have originated with a recording of Paddy Cronin made sometime in the 1950s for the Boston-based O’Byrne-De Witt/Copley label when he was still a recent arrival in the States. The set seems to have caught on, and was subsequently played in the same arrangement by a number of other musicians. Con Curtin & Edmond Murphy were recorded playing the set by Bill Leader at The Favourite pub in London in 1968. Maire O’Keeffe played them as the opening track of her album Cóisir in 1993, and the pair have been a popular couple wherever Sliabh Luachra musicians are gathered together.

The Pride of Rathmore https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1614/ was in the repertoire of many of Paddy Cronin’s peers back in Sliabh Luachra, but it’s unclear if it became popular primarily because of Cronin’s recording or if it was played widely before that. It was recorded by Julia and Billy Clifford as The Rabbit’s Burrow on their album Ceol as Sliabh Luachra. It was collected by Breandán Breathnach for his book Ceol Rince na hÉireann, Volume 2, from the Glencollins fiddler Molly Myers Murphy in 1970. As she learned mostly from Tom Billy Murphy, it could very well have been from his repertoire. I have one unconfirmed source that says she was also a student of Pádraig O’Keeffe, at least for a time, so perhaps she could have got it from him, or she could have learned it from another source, including Paddy Cronin’s recording, either directly or indirectly. It can also be found in Martin Mulvihill’s collection, sourced from Anne Sheehy (McAuliffe).

The Girls of Farranfore https://www.irishtune.info/tune/440/ is known to have been in Pádraig O’Keeffe’s repertoire as well as Denis Murphy’s. It may be Pádraig had it from Ryan’s Mammoth Collection: 1050 Reels and Jigs, printed in 1883 in Boston, Massachusetts (where it is called Paddy the Piper), either directly or through his uncle Cal who may have brought a copy of the collection back with him from his time in the States. However, as printed, the tune lacks the distinctive G arpeggio in the third bar of the A part which is present in Pádraig’s playing and is such a singular detail of the tune as it’s played today. When the G arpeggio is absent, the tune is often called The Game of Love (by which name it goes in Capt. O’Neill’s Waifs and Strays of Irish Melody, 1922), but there are exceptions. Paddy Cronin recorded it again as Paddy the Piper on his LP The Rakish Paddy, but in the place of the usual G arpeggio he plays a wobbling descending figure. It’s a very well-traveled tune; Breandán Breathnach collected it from Clare fiddler Peter O’Loughlin in 1966, and in varying forms it exists in Co. Fermanagh as The Aberdeen Lasses, in Scotland as Rory McNab.

There is an aberration, a mutation, an unnatural progeny of these tunes, often called The Gneeveguilla Reel or Considine’s Grove. It is played as a three-part reel, the first two parts being essentially Rathmore, and the third part being the tasty 2nd half of Farranfore’s A part, played twice. It seems to have caught on in a big way with the “straight trad” crowd, which makes it problematic at best to start the two-part Rathmore in the wrong kind of company. The first appearance of this unholy matrimony in a commercial recording seems to be on Mary Bergin’s Feadóga Stáin 2, released in 1993. One hesitates to lay the blame for such a crime against humanity entirely at her feet; perhaps she was led innocently astray by some unnamed source. To be fair though, we could look on this new development as a logical, if indirect, result of Paddy Cronin’s pervasive influence on these two tunes. It seems each time he was recorded playing them, he altered them in small ways or big, always twisting and turning them, changing them up to suit his fancy throughout the years.

Paddy Cronin plays the set on his 78 rpm recording from the 1950s.

Pádraig O’Keeffe plays The Girls of Farranfore with his setting of The Bucks of Oranmore

Denis Murphy plays Farranfore (listed as The Mountcollins Reel) on an old 78

Paddy Cronin again with a very different setting on his LP The Rakish Paddy

The Kaiser (slide)

Also, and perhaps more often, known as Going to the Well for Water, but that name also applies to another slide. And calling it The Kaiser affords us the opportunity to talk about its namesake, a real character from the old days.

Pádraig O’Keeffe’s nearest neighbour, Thomas Murphy, was known locally as “The Kaysher”, though exactly how he got that nickname is unclear. The Kaiser was an entrepreneur, and in that capacity he sometimes operated under the nom de plume of “Noel C. Duggan of Glountane”. He organised house dances, raffles and other money-making stunts. His raffles were well known for the first prize always being won by somebody with an address in Sligo or Donegal. Having ‘borrowed’ a house with a kitchen big enough to accommodate the dancers, he would stand at the door charging a half crown for admission, a substantial sum in those days (the late 1940s). [Had they been caught, he would most likely have been fined five shillings on being summoned for holding a house dance without a dance licence; the other attendees would have been summoned for abetting and probably given the benefit of the Probation Act.] The musicians had free porter all night as their fee, and everyone else was charged sixpence a mug. Terry Teahan (who left for Chicago in 1928) wrote that the usual prize in a house dance raffle was a turkey or chicken; the musicians were often paid with a fowl. Maurice O’Keeffe said that the house dances, which finished around 1950, were called ‘Raffles’, because they were money raising ventures by people with big families to support. He said there were no pubs at that time because people had not the money to go in. Dan O’Connell said that most raffles took place towards the end of the year to raise enough money for Christmas. Maurice commented that when he was young a house dance might consist of the Reel o’ Skip (all reels), the High Cauled Cap (a special dance); and finally a polka set, because it was easy when people were tired.

Some memories of The Kaiser’s antics:

“The Kaiser lived directly across the road and occasionally called to Pádraig for a chat. One day I walked into the kitchen to find “The Kaiser” leaning on the back of a sugan chair, facing the door. Seated on another chair right behind him was Pádraig, and he apparently was sewing the seam of the Kaiser’s pants, which had parted. The Kaiser looked up to see who was coming and, in moving, disrupted Pádraig’s repair-work. Pádraig hit him a resounding slap on the backside and said “Ceartaigh!”. Ceartaigh is an Irish word, meaning “correct your position”, and was used by Gaelic speakers to straighten a cow that wasn’t standing correctly in her stall, and was obstructing the others.

“I remember a house dance the Kaiser organised in Culhane’s down at the bridge. The Kaiser was an entrepreneur before the word appeared in any dictionary. He was the “Noel C. Duggan” of Glountane, always coming up with raffles and stunts for making money. He had unusual prizes. I remember he put up a pony’s trap as first prize for one raffle. We all bought tickets and it never dawned on me to consider what would happen if I won the trap. I had no pony. I need not have worried. I was in no danger of winning it. Somebody with an address in Sligo or Donegal always won the top prize, and a few local people won the lesser prizes, a ten or a five-pound note here and there. This fact was not lost on the local people, but they didn’t mind. It was just a bit of craic and they took part just for the fun of it. The same trap showed up in several later raffles. The Northerners were remarkably lucky. They always won it.

“The biggest problem with the house dance was to get some houseowner to give his house for the night. It had to have a big enough kitchen to accommodate the dancers. There was also the question of damage to property, in case some of the dancers got carried away and accidentally broke some crockery, or the glass of the lamp. On the night, The Kaiser stood in the doorway and collected a half a crown from each person who went in. All the able-bodied men and women in Glountane showed up , including some old-timers who were a bit rusty in the joints, but still had a sparkle in the eye. Half a crown was a substantial sum in those days and I’m sure Jimmy Culhane got a percentage of the take for the use of his house.

“The Kaiser had organised a couple of half-tierces of stout which were located in a room off the kitchen – the kitchen table had been taken in there to make room, and it served as a bar. The musicians, one of whom was Pádraig, started up, and the sets got under way. The musicians had free porter for the night- that was probably their fee. The dancers went at it hammer and tongs. They were all great dancers, but I particularly remember Johnny “Silvey”, who was as good a dancer as he was an athlete, rising high above the crowd like Nijinsky and hammering the flags in great style when he came back down to earth. Above in the room, the old-timers, many of them athletes and dancers in their day, talked of times past and sipped mugs of The Kaiser’s porter at sixpence a mug. The dance went on all night and the following morning, as I made my craw sick way to school, I met one of the musicians, Denny Collins, on his way home. He had his melodeon tied to the bar of his bicycle. There seemed to be something wrong with the steering mechanism of his bike, but Denny didn’t notice. He had a far-away look in his eye, a smile on his face, and he was at peace with the world.

“Everybody agreed that The Kaiser’s house dance was an unqualified
success.”

-from Dermot Hanafin’s book Pádraig O’Keeffe: The Man and His Music


Be warned, the setting that Julia plays here differs a bit from the more commonly played version!

home of the KaiserKaiser's house

The Kaiser’s house has since disappeared, just the outline of the foundation remains.

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/740/

The Top of Maol (polka)

This tune, like so many others, goes by a few names. It’s often called the Queen’s Polka, or sometimes the Groves of Gneeveguilla, but Pádraig O’Keeffe named this tune Top of Maol to commemorate the fact that he could see the top of Sliabh Maol to the northeast from his home at Glountane Cross. Finding the place now can be tricky! What was once called Sliabh Maol is now either Baraveha or Knockfeha, where the Brown Flesk River rises. The bogs of Maol could be part of what are now collectively known as the Mount Eagle bogs, or the adjacent land which has been given over to the forestry schemes which have drastically changed the face of the local countryside. And the townland which was once Maol is now generally referred to as Glanowen. The travelling fiddler Phillip Walsh, who gave his name to Walsh’s Hornpipe, hailed from Maol, and there’s also a little-played reel known as Sliabh Maol. [Many thanks to Donal Cullinane for help with the geography!]

Top of Maol from SLOP
as it appears in Sliabh Luachra on Parade, a collection of Cuz Teahan’s repertoire

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/2630/

Rain a Sup (slide)

The name seems curious, but a case can be made that it refers to the small townland of Renasup, just a short walk up the road from Lisheen on the way to Glountane. This slide can be found by this name in Johnny O’Leary of Sliabh Luachra, but like many tunes, goes by other names as well: Bridgie the Weaver’s, The Barna, The Annablaha, The Kiskeam… and probably more besides.

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/3823/